Blue Water Hunting and Freediving - Digital Version 1 - Page 214
bluewater hunting and freediving
Divers usually find white seabass in and around kelp beds or in bays free of kelp , over deep-water pinnacles . Whites have even been reported many miles offshore under floating kelp paddies . They frequent kelp beds in the early morning and early evening , generally descending deeper during midday . Periods of slack current also make for good hunting because the fish tend to school higher in the water column at that time . A lucky diver will sometimes find one “ sleeping ,” its nose nestled behind a kelp stalk ten to 45 feet deep .
One of the best locations for whites is the up-current end of a kelp bed or reef , where they can be found swimming into the current or patrolling the bluewater edge of the underlying reef . When the current changes and the kelp rises to the surface , they ’ ll be swimming along the kelp bed toward the new up-current end . With mild current changes , they may stay at the down-current end of the kelp . Another favorite location is a bluewater opening into the kelp forest overlying a sand channel . Some specific kelp beds will have no fish in clear water with a current , but will hold fish as the current slackens and the water visibility drops below 25 feet . They are often near bait schools of mackerel , sardines and blacksmith . Catalina Island pole fishermen report that their most effective bait is blacksmith fish .
Spawning whites return to the same areas yearly , and they tend to stay there for three to four weeks . I captured their mating behavior on video ; seven 20-pound silver males followed a 25-pound zebra-striped female through the kelp , taking turns rubbing against her body . Another time , 20 feet below the surface , I watched as three males swirled around a female in a shallow sand bowl . The female was probably laying her eggs .
Sometimes white seabass , members of the croaker family , make their presence known with their distinctive , deep-throated croaking . The sound tells you whites are near — the croaking will actually resonate in your chest — unfortunately it offers no directional information . There are several distinct types of croaking , including a quick-tempo breeding croak , a general rallying croak ( KRaaaaK … AH , KRaaaaK … AH ), and a
208 short alerting croak ( Pop , Pop ). It takes practice to learn these sounds , but when you can identify the warning croak , you know that they are literally within feet , maybe even inches , of you . Some divers attract whites by mimicking the croaking . Try two quick , deep-throated croaks — bumpbump — and observe the effect on the fish . If they are hunting , they may scatter ; otherwise they may swim close and join you as a member of their school .
Mark Barville , who is particularly knowledgeable about white seabass hunting off Palos Verdes , California , used his finely tuned musician ’ s ear to call in hundreds of whites weighing from ten to 60 pounds . They circled him for minutes , the larger fish staying as close to him as the smaller fish . In the evening , when shadows block sunlight from the kelp edge , you can find them swimming slowly and croaking to attract others . If the sound becomes louder , wait motionlessly . They may pass in view .
Bill Kroll , 1994 Catalina Bluewater Meet champion , once shot a white seabass that he discovered would croak when he put pressure on the fish ’ s side . He “ croaked ” his fish while swimming it back to the boat . The friendly sound he induced attracted a school of white seabass that followed him for minutes .
Their croaking , which is useful in keeping the school together in dirty water and at night , can also be used to convey danger . Just one distressed croak from a wounded fish alerts the rest of the school , and fish within a large radius will disappear . This is an excellent reason for making a kill shot — to prevent the fish from making distress croaks .
White seabass are very sensitive to sound and motion . Croaking aside , this is one fish you must hunt silently . I have seen them flee after being alerted by noisy divers clearing their ears or squeaking their fins . One very successful hunter literally creeps over the kelp forest , using only his fingers for locomotion . When you approach a kelp bed with your boat , shut off the engine and drift quietly into the bed . Let out the anchor noiselessly and avoid stomping around in the boat . Slip over the boat ’ s side silently and avoid splashing .